MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota's rotation has been better lately after months of weak performances, one reason why the Twins earned nine wins in 13 games before their weekend series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
But Cole De Vries (2-3) was roughed up from his first pitch, another stark reminder of the shape this franchise's starting pitching is still in.
Matt Joyce hit a two-run homer and a two-run double, Jose Molina drove in three runs, and the Rays beat the Twins 12-6 on Friday night to keep pace in the crowded American League wild card race with their ninth win in 12 games.
"That was a flat-out ambush job there," De Vries said. "They were jumping on me early and not really letting me get to my game plan. It kind of threw me off a little bit, but that happens sometimes."
Jeremy Hellickson (7-7) won for the third time in four starts despite lasting only five innings. He had an 8-1 lead after a six-run second by the Rays, who batted around twice and won their fourth straight.
"I think you see what happens when you don't get the ball where you want it," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Desmond Jennings hit the first of six doubles by the Rays and scored on Joyce's no-doubt drive to right field. De Vries got only four outs and gave up seven hits, eight runs and 14 total bases, his ERA soaring from 3.81 to 4.77 in his 11th start of 2012.
"Our starters have given us a great opportunity for the most part. Tonight it didn't work out," Gardenhire said.
The Rays started a 10-game trip in style, finishing one short of their season-high score, 13 at Miami on June 9. Evan Longoria drove in a run with a second-inning single, giving him three RBIs in four games since returning from his 85-game absence caused by a partially torn left hamstring.
Rays manager Joe Maddon spoke before the game about the boost Longoria has given to the team's spirit just by being in the lineup, and Tampa Bay improved to 19-8 this season when he is.
Ben Zobrist, playing shortstop for the second straight game, was the only starter without a hit. But he made two slick pick-ups of ground balls up the middle, including one that ended the first inning with Josh Willingham on first. Willingham had driven in Joe Mauer with a single for his 85th RBI, third-most in the AL behind Miguel Cabrera and Josh Hamilton.
But Willingham spent most of his time chasing all of those doubles down the line.
"I told Willingham, 'Maybe you should stand down by the Twins emblem in the left field corner. Then you might catch some of those balls,'" Gardenhire said, lamenting De Vries' inability to keep his pitches down in the strike zone. "He just kept hanging 'em, and they kept banging 'em."
Jeff Manship relieved De Vries and retired 11 straight batters before stumbling during a four-run sixth on Molina's two-run single and B.J. Upton's two-run double.
"It just came on so quick and so hard that before I knew it I was already out of the game," De Vries said. "There wasn't time to adjust. It just kind of spiraled out of control."
NOTES: This was Mauer's 12th three-hit game of the season, on the night when the first 20,000 fans through the gates got his replica sideburns as a souvenir. ... Mauer tied Torii Hunter for seventh place on the Twins' career list with 1,218 hits. ... Twins 3B Trevor Plouffe will start a rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Rochester on Saturday, with his bruised right thumb almost ready for action. The Twins want him to play two games there before they bring him back. "He says he feels good, but he's got to face the ball coming in 90 miles an hour," Gardenhire said. ... All-Star LH David Price (14-4, 2.49 ERA) will pitch for the Rays on Saturday night, trying to become the first in the franchise's 15-year history to reach 15 wins for a second time. RH Nick Blackburn (4-7, 7.42 ERA) will take the mound for the Twins for the 18th time this year.
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